Doctors believe that we are in the middle of asthma and allergy epidemics, as the numbers of children and adults who suffer from these conditions continue to grow, with no concrete explanations for the increases. Asthma is now the leading chronic (or ongoing) illness in children. More than 1 in 10 American kids now have asthma. While it can start at any age, most children have had their first symptoms by age 5.
The causes of asthma appear to be varied. While the condition is a mystery to many doctors, some health professionals believe that more children are getting asthma nowadays because they’re being more exposed to air pollution and other toxic chemicals.
Doctors believe that the following risk factors can lead to a child developing asthma:
- A hypersensitive immune system, which often means the child has allergies to dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold, etc.
- Inherited traits
- Not having been breastfed
- Some airway infections that occur at a young age
- Exposure to environmental pollution, such as smog or cigarette smoke
- Being exposed to secondhand smoke before or after birth
- Emotional stress
- Being of African descent
An asthma attack happens when the bronchial tubes that carry oxygen to the lungs constrict, making it harder for the person to breathe in or out. Asthma can also be the result of inflammation — the bronchial tubes and lungs can swell and secrete mucus, which also makes breathing more difficult.
Sometimes, asthma attacks don’t happen right after exposure to the trigger, making it harder to figure out what caused the attack. But some known triggers include:
- Viral infections (such as the common cold)
- Physical activity
- Changes in weather
- Exposure to air pollutants, including tobacco smoke, smog, and chemicals in the home, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are vapors released by many products, including glues, felt-tip markers, all-purpose household cleaners, paints, and construction materials, including carpeting
A severe asthma attack can restrict the person’s airflow completely, meaning that it could cause death. Symptoms of an asthma attack include wheezing when inhaling or exhaling, pain or tightening in the chest, shortness of breath, loss of breath, or tightened neck and chest muscles.
Symptoms that could indicate your child has asthma include:
- Frequent coughing spells, often during play, at night or when laughing
- You can see the child’s stomach rising or the ribs protruding from their extra effort to breathe
- Shortness or loss of breath
- Dark circles under the eyes (from poor sleep)
- Loss of appetite
If you believe that your child may have asthma, talk to your pediatrician right away. Your doctor will run a few tests; if your child is diagnosed with asthma, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan for your child, which will include specific instructions for when your child may experience a severe attack.
There are a handful of inhaler-type medications currently used for asthma attacks in children, some of which contain steroids. Long-term steroid use is associated with serious health problems; so, ask your doctor if your child can use a less potent, but safer, medicine without steroids. (Another option is to use a steroid inhaler only for serious attacks, and not for ongoing maintenance. Talk to your doctor about all your options.)
Nature’s defense against asthma. A study from the Netherlands found that babies who were never breastfed had a 50 percent increased risk of developing wheezing episodes later on; babies who were not breastfed also had an increased risk of shortness of breath, dry cough or persistent phlegm during their first four years. Infants who were given breast milk, in addition to other milk plus solid foods before four months had a 20 percent greater risk of developing wheezing later on.
If your child is past the breastfeeding stage, there are still natural methods that you can use to lessen their likelihood of getting asthma attacks.
The foods that your child eats are as important in preventing asthma, as they are in avoiding all other disease. You want to feed your child plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, which are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables also contain natural enzymes that help trigger thousands of metabolic processes, including digestion, which is essential for the absorption and utilization of nutrients. Buy organic produce whenever possible.
Include in your child’s vegetables dark, leafy greens, as these have folate, a B-vitamin important for healthy red blood cells, and the transport of oxygen to all the body’s tissues. Oxygen keeps tissues, including the airways, healthy. Another natural source of folate is orange juice, but not all brands have it (so, check label).
You want to feed your child foods rich in zinc, an important mineral for a strong immune system. These foods include: beef liver, beef, fowl, dairy products, beans, seeds and nuts. Give your child fish sometimes, to add beneficial oils to their digestion, on top of very healthy protein.
Cow’s milk products are such important foods for a growing child (and for the rest of us, too), that you should go out of your way to get your youngster to consume them. If your child has sensitivities to milk, try lactose-free or organic dairy products; these are much easier on the GI tract and are better tolerated by many. Using non-fat, plain yogurt in place of sour cream is a great way to cut calories, and add beneficial bacteria cultures to your child’s diet, which will help get rid of harmful organisms in the digestive tract — where most of our immune system is located.
Keep salty and sugary snacks to a minimum, encourage your child to drink plenty of water every day, and avoid artificial preservatives, colors and stabilizers.
Turmeric and Ginger:
These two are deserving of a category of their own, because of their legendary and safe health-promoting powers. Turmeric helps fight inflammation (from asthma and allergies, as well as other conditions, which makes it great for overall good health), and ginger is an awesome, delicious antibacterial that’s excellent for the digestion.
Try either ginger, turmeric, or both, with warm milk. Heat 1 cup of organic milk (or water, if your child prefers), add about a quarter teaspoon of turmeric powder, plus about an eighth of a teaspoonful of ginger. Add a little lemon and/ or honey, and you have a natural way to discourage allergies and asthma. Ginger and turmeric can also be bought raw, then grated and steeped in a warm liquid, making them even more flavorful.
Note: Another powerful and convenient way to cleanse and nourish your child’s system is by squirting fresh lemon juice in a glass of cold water, or in a cup of warm water, to soothe a sore throat. Add a little honey or raw sugar, and you have a natural mega-booster of good health. (As with cow’s milk, honey should not be given to a child under one year old.)
Ask your doctor about incorporating natural essential oils as part of your child’s doctor-approved asthma treatment. Choose essential oils that can help prevent asthma attacks and may even make the asthma go away. Oils of lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint or lemon all help to naturally open up and soothe the airways.
Caution: Never use an essential oil on your child when he or she is having an asthma attack; follow your doctor’s instructions for asthma attacks during those times. And before you use an oil on your child, do a simple allergy test for the oil or oils you select, by putting a drop on your palm, smearing it, and having your child smell your palm. If there are no allergic reactions, the oil is safe to use.
There are two ways you can use essential oils for asthma:
1. Mix 2 drops of essential oil with a few drops of olive or coconut oil, have child rub it on his or her palms, then smell the oil. (Oil can also be put on a cotton ball, if preferred.) They can practice taking in some deep breaths as they smell their palm. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. This can be done several times a day and at night, when your child may be more likely to experience breathing problems.
2. Mix 10 drops of essential oil into 1 ounce of olive or coconut oil, and massage on your child’s chest and back. This can be done when he or she goes to bed at night. The purpose of the carrier oil is to dilute the essential oil, which may be too strong to use alone.
Remove from your child’s environment any known triggers for asthma attacks. Launder bed sheets at least once a week in hot water. Liquid, fragrance-free laundry detergents will be easier on a child with allergies or asthma. Use non-chlorine bleach, which is milder and less toxic than chlorine bleach, or opt for another non-chlorine laundry booster, if you use one at all.
Give your home a good dusting and vacuuming once a week, which will remove a lot of allergens. And avoid harsh chemicals for cleaning your house. Non-chlorine bleach with water makes a good household cleaner and disinfectant, as does hydrogen peroxide, and white vinegar with water. Baking soda and water makes a nice, harmless paste that you can use for your scrubbing jobs.
If you make modifications, and your child is still having asthma flare-ups, it could be the air where you live. Consider moving to a different region. Asthma sufferers often do better when they change climates.
By Jamell Andrews